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FEMA Report Says Most State Building Codes Aren’t Stringent Enough

A new FEMA report gives all but a few states the lowest possible rating on the quality of building codes to protect against natural disasters. FEMA’s report categorized each U.S. state based on the strength of its codes for residential and commercial buildings, and 39 states were placed in the lowest category. Using a 100-point scale, 19 states received a score of 0, including some of the nation’s most disaster-prone states like Louisiana and North Carolina.

FEMA’s ratings are part of a new federal effort to analyze building codes, a crucial element in protecting against ever-increasing natural disasters like floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. A 2020 FEMA study revealed that thousands of localities had archaic building codes that exposed people to a “dangerous, costly and unnecessarily high level of risk.” FEMA has urged states and localities to adopt the newest building codes, often offering incentives like discounted flood insurance premiums.

Some states are doing much better than others. FEMA gave Florida a near-perfect score of 99.1 percent because the state has adopted the latest version of the International Code Council’s requirements, and the state requires every county and municipality to follow it. On the other hand, Texas received a score of 10 percent because the state follows building codes published in 2012, and municipalities have broad discretion to modify their codes.

The number of global natural disasters has increased by a factor of 5 over the past 50 years, driven mainly by climate change, according to a report from the U.N.’s World Meteorological Organization. But thanks to improved early warnings and disaster management, the report says the number of deaths from these disasters has decreased almost three-fold.

Improving the life safety performance of buildings goes a long way to preventing wide-scale property damage and lives lost during disasters such as floods and tropical storms. Given the increase in these disasters, improving state and local building codes will be an essential consideration in the years ahead.

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